Thursday, January 17, 2019

Catching up with agave wizard Greg Starr in Tucson

Over the years, I've become friends with Greg Starr, author of the Timber Press book Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers and owner of Starr Nursery. I visit him and his wife Carol whenever I'm in Tucson, and this time was no exception. I always love hearing about his discoveries on agave expeditions to Mexico and seeing what he has growing in his greenhouses. And I never fail to find cool plants I simply must have.

Greg lives on the west side of Tucson, pretty close to the edge of the city. The Tucson Mountains are just a few miles away; beyond them are the western unit of Saguaro National Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Old Tucson Studios theme park.

The properties in this part of Tucson seamlessly merge into the desert. "Borrowed scenery" is not just an abstract concept here, it's reality:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Electric Desert: after dark at the Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix, AZ likes to light up the night. When I was there in December 2013, they had a large-scale exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures which attracted crowds both during the day and at night (a record-breaking 631,000 visitors). In December 2015 they hosted Bruce Munro's Sonoran Light installation (318,000 visitors). This year, it was Electric Desert, created by video artist Ricardo Rivero and Klip Collective.

Electric Desert

On each of these occasions I went in December, which allowed me to experience both the special exhibit and Las Noches de las Luminarias, a beloved holiday tradition at the DBG combining 8,000 luminaria bags (hand-lit every night by volunteers) and holiday entertainment in nine different spots throughout the garden.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Off the grid in the Arizona desert: Jan Emming's Destination:Forever Ranch

A large parcel of land away from it all, surrounded by scenery so beautiful you want to cry, with no neighbors in sight and the freedom to do exactly what you want: Who hasn't dreamed of that at some point in their lives? I certainly have. But how many people actually turn this heady fantasy into reality? Precious few.

However, there are some who do. Jan Emming is one of them. A Colorado native, he began in the late 1990s to scour the western U.S. for a site where he could create the desert garden he'd been envisioning since he was a teen. In 1998 he found what he was looking for: 40 acres in northwestern Arizona near the small town of Yucca.

This is a very special spot where the Mojave meets the Sonoran Desert. I was astounded to find Joshua trees, the signature plant of the Mojave, growing side by side with saguaros, the signature plant of the Sonoran. Add ocotillos, chollas, hedgehog and barrel cactus, California junipers and scrub oak, and you have a great start for a desert garden. When I pulled into the driveway of Jan's property on the morning of December 28, I understood immediately why he had chosen to live there.

But let me back up a little. I got off Interstate 40 at the first exit for Yucca. If you've ever driven this stretch, you've probably seen this quirky structure from the road:

Golf Ball House aka Area 66 off I-40 in Yucca, AZ

Known as the Golf Ball House, it was built in the 1970s as the restaurant and night club for an ambitious real-estate project that went belly up before it ever got off the ground—a metaphor for so many desert dreams that go poof. Later owners built a store and renamed the property Area 66, but when I stopped to take some photos, the gates were locked and there was no sign of life.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

My Arizona haul: spikes, rocks, and metal Mariachi musicians

I just got back from my after-Christmas road trip Arizona. I drove 2,223 miles in seven days, visited six public and three private gardens, took 1,800 photos, and returned with a car full of goodies. My rental plantmobile was a Chevrolet Equinox, an small SUV with plenty of room, and yet I managed to fill it with my purchases and finds: a wild assortment of plants, rocks, and other stuff that somehow ended up in the car.

In case you're wondering what my favorite trophy is:

Two totem pole cactus sections (Lophocereus schottii f. monstrosus) I found on Phoenix Craigslist for $10. Yes, ten bucks. Considering a rooted two-foot specimen can be $50 or more in a nursery, this is the steal of the year. These two will take up residence in the bed next to the front door when I redo it in the spring.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Arizona December 2018 trip index

In keeping with tradition, I went on a road trip right after Christmas. This year I returned to Arizona. I drove 2,223 miles in seven days, visited six public and three private gardens, and took 1,800 photos.
Here are all my posts about what I saw:
Many more to come.

Last updated: Jan 13, 2019

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year from Arizona

Happy New Year, everybody! May it be filled with lots of joy, laughter, and prickly plants.

Speaking of prickly plants, I've been seeing my fair share of them in the last five days. I'm on my annual after-Christmas road trip, and this time I'm back in Arizona. I'll have detailed posts about plants and places in the weeks to come: Desert Botanical Garden, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Tohono Chul, just to name a few.

In the meantime, here are a few random snaps to tide you over:

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

John Miller's Oakland aloe garden (Institute for Aloe Studies)

In July I blogged about the plants I'd mail-ordered from the Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS) in Oakland. I was blown away (and still am) by their huge selection of uncommon aloe species and their very reasonable prices.

Some of the IAS plants are grown in a greenhouse on the grounds of the Oakland Zoo, others at the private garden of IAS president John Miller. A few weekends ago, I finally had the opportunity to visit John's garden together with three other aloe enthusiasts, John B, Justin T and Brian P. The experience was mind-blowing and overwhelming—actually, it was very similar to way I often feel a really great museum.

As it turns out, John Miller has one of the largest collections of aloes in the country. My partners-in-crime were giving him a good-natured ribbing: Where are you now in the top 3? Number 2? Haven't made it to the top yet? Plant nerds like teasing each other.

Aloidendron dichotomum dressed up for Christmas

To find out more about the history of the IAS, read my previous post and the About Us page on their website.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Huntington Desert Garden eye candy for the holidays (New World 2)

I hope the eye candy from the Huntington's Desert Garden that I've been showing you over the past couple of days has brightened the dark winter days. The first post was all about the Old World section with its aloes, euphorbias, and the like. The second post featured many of the amazing cactus and other succulents in the New World section. That's where this post (the third and final installment) continues.

The most iconic agave at the Huntington is Agave parryi var. truncata. In fact, the Huntington has its own eponymous clone, officially a named cultivar since 2012. In the second post you saw it growing amidst the jumble of golden barrel cactus; in the photo below, it frames a magnificent Agave mapisaga var. lisa:

Agave mapisaga var. lisa and Agave parryi var. truncata

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Huntington Desert Garden eye candy for the holidays (New World 1)

My previous post had eye candy from the Old World section of the Huntington's Desert Garden. Click here to read it.

For some reason, I took even more photos in the New World section when I visited the week after Thanksgiving; it must have been the late afternoon light that made cactus spines glow like liquid gold. I'll share 90+ images with you over the next couple of days to make your holidays succulently spiny.

First, let's stop briefly at the Yucca rostrata sentinels in the entrance garden...

I read that this is a Yucca rostrata cultivar called 'Blue Velvet'

Friday, December 21, 2018

Huntington Desert Garden eye candy for the holidays (Old World)

My last post—a review of Ron Parker's book Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest—was 1,700+ words. Since everybody is so busy around the holidays, I want to spare you another lengthy post. Instead, here's some easy-to-digest succulent eye candy from the Desert Garden at the Huntington in San Marino. I took the photos at the end of November on day 1 of my post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California.

In fact, I took so many photos that I have enough for several "eye candy" posts. This one focuses on the Old World section, mostly plants from Africa. Enjoy!

Aloidendron barberae silhouette